Certain dishes are eaten during the Chinese New Year celebrations for their symbolic meaning. These lucky foods are served especially on New Year’s Eve, which is believed to bring good luck for the coming year. The symbolism of these foods is mainly based on their appearance as well as pronunciations.
Here are the most common Chinese New Year foods that are consumed for good luck:
Longevity noodles (Chang Shou Mian), just like its appearance, symbolize a wish for long and healthy life. Chang Shou Mian are longer than normal noodles and served uncut, either fried or boiled.
Dumplings or Jiao Zi traditionally resemble ingots or money, hence eating dumpling is believed to usher in wealth. This dish is widely popular in China, especially in North China. Dumplings generally consist of minced meat (pork, diced shrimp, fish, ground chicken, beef), vegetables, and wrapped in elastic dough skin. They can be cooked by boiling, steaming, frying or baking.
In Chinese, “fish” (Yu) sounds like ‘surpluses or ‘abundance. Chinese people always like to have a surplus at the end of the year; so fish is a dish that should be served at New Year feast. Usually families buy a whole fish, which symbolizes unity, and it is typically steamed with ginger and a light soy sauce. It’s is also important to leave leftovers for the next day because this signifies that the prosperity will overflow.
Glutinous rice cake (Nian gao)
This glutinous rice-based cake (known as Kue Keranjang in Bahasa Indonesia) actually can be found year round, but it is traditionally consumed during Chinese New Year for good luck. Nian Gao is a homonym for ‘higher year’—which means that you’ll be raising yourself in status in the coming year. Nian Gao is made of sticky rice, sugar, chestnuts, Chinese dates, and lotus leaves.
Sweet rice balls (Tang yuan)
Tang Yuan is typically consumed during the 15th day of Chinese New Year celebration, known as the Yuanxiao Festival. The 15th day is also the first night a full moon is apparent during the lunar year. The roundness of the rice balls signifies a complete circle of harmony and unity within family. Usually, these sweet rice balls are filled with sesame paste, red bean, or peanuts, and served in a sweet soup.
Good fortune fruits
Certain fruits are eaten during the Chinese New Year period, such as tangerines and oranges. They are selected as they are particularly round in shape and golden in color, which symbolizing fullness and wealth. Eating and displaying tangerines and oranges is believed to bring good luck and fortune due to their pronunciation (Cheng) whish sounds the same as the Chinese for ‘success’.
Spring rolls (Chun Juan)
Spring roll is a Cantonese dim sum dish that’s named after the Spring Festival. The golden color of the fried spring rolls represents gold bars, which symbolize wealth. Usually, spring rolls are filled with meat or something sweet.